NHS dental treatment is free for children.

Your child may require a number of different treatments when they go to the dentist. Some treatments help prevent tooth decay and erosion (see Dental care - why it is used), while others are used to repair damaged or decayed teeth.

Some of the most common dental treatments that your child may receive are explained below.

Dental X-rays
An X-ray is an imaging technique that uses high-energy radiation to highlight abnormalities in bones. Dental X-rays may be used to:
  • check for holes or decay in the teeth
  • make sure that the teeth are developing in the correct position, including teeth that have not yet emerged through the gums

See the Health A-Z topic about X-rays for more information about this procedure.

Dental hygienist
Your dentist may recommend that your child has occasional appointments with a dental hygienist.

A dental hygienist can clean and polish your child's teeth and help remove plaque (a soft, sticky substance that is produced when bacteria build up on teeth) to reduce the risk of tooth decay. A hygienist can also:
  • apply fluoride gels and solutions to your child's teeth, which also helps prevent tooth decay
  • provide advice about how your child can improve their brushing technique
Fluoride is a mineral that helps protect teeth from decay. Some areas of the country have fluoride added to their water supply. Fluoride is also present in many brands of toothpastes. The amount of fluoride in toothpaste is usually shown on the tube.
  • Children up to three years of age should use a smear of toothpaste with a fluoride level of at least 1,000 ppm (parts per million).
  • After the age of three, children should use a pea-sized amount of toothpaste containing 1,350-1,500 ppm of fluoride.

If your child's mouth is particularly vulnerable to decay or they are not getting enough fluoride, your dentist may recommend fluoride tablets, drops or mouthwashes.

Your dentist can advise you if you are unsure about how much fluoride your child is getting. See the Health A-Z topic about Fluoride for more information.

Fissure sealants
Sometimes, children have deep fissures (crevices) or very uneven surfaces in their back teeth (molars). This makes it easier for tiny particles of food to get trapped in their back teeth. If your child does not brush their teeth thoroughly, bacteria may start to build up and cause tooth decay.

A fissure sealant is a special resin that is painted on to the back of teeth. Applying the sealant is a quick and painless procedure that creates a seal on the teeth that helps prevent tooth decay. The sealant should last for several years.

If your child's tooth becomes decayed, they may need to have a filling. This involves removing all of the decay inside the tooth and filling the hole. If the hole is not filled, bacteria will be able to enter the tooth, which could lead to an infection.

Tooth extraction
Sometimes, one or more of your child's teeth may need to be taken out (extracted). This may be because they are decayed beyond repair or because their mouth is overcrowded.

An extraction will be carried out using local anaesthetic (painkilling medication) to numb the tooth, gum and surrounding area. This is to ensure that your child will not feel any pain.

If your child's teeth are not lined up properly in their mouth, they may need to be fitted with a brace. A brace is a device that is used for straightening teeth. Your child will usually need to see a specialist, called an orthodontist, to have a brace fitted.

Sometimes, you and your child may decide to have a brace fitted to their teeth for cosmetic reasons (to improve appearance). However, this kind of treatment is normally only provided privately and you will usually have to pay for it.